To amend clay soil, add builder's sand and gypsum to create more air pockets and increase the soil's drainage. Spread about 2 inches of compost on top of the tilled soil and work that in. They interlock tightly, with small air spaces, so water can only penetrate as quickly as it can fill those spaces. Even if you're certain you have heavy clay—and have the clods on your boots and tools to prove it—take time to test your soil before you make changes. On top of gravel, add two inches of compost, or other organic amendment. We’re glad you asked. Loam soil facilitates plant growth in three key ways. Improving your clay soil will take a bit of work, but the good news is that the work you do will instantly improve the structure of your soil and make it easier to work with. Clay is rich in nutrients plants need to grow, holding calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Clay soil can be a good thing many plants grow well in it. Clay-rich soils are known to be somewhat impermeable due to how easily their small clay particles compact together, but clay makes up for its low amount of aeration with a high amount of nutrients. Dig in to approximately eight inches with a spade. BREAK DOWN CLAY SOIL IN A PLANTING HOLE. This is best done by a professional. The best way to loosen and improve clay soil is by adding lots of organic matter. How to Apply Gypsum to Clay Soil. Soils with high clay contents retain moisture, are mineral rich for plant growth, and are stable, providing support for large plants, bushes and trees. Add powdered gypsum at the rate of two to three handfuls per square metre, then dig the soil over and water it … This would require 250kg per sq m (460lbs per sq yd) of grit or gravel. Clay soil composition will improve more if a gardener digs the amendment into the soil instead of top-dressing soil with it. This is supposed to accomplish softening by improving the structure of the compacted clay soil. This is especially true for any long tapered root crops or deep rooted crops (they might not do well the first season unless you add some top soil or peat moss for drainage). Mix well—the gravel will look like chocolate chips in cookie dough. Limit foot traffic. Improving the soil to make it easier to dig is a better and cheapest option than replacing it. Clay’s small particles make it hard to dig through, but they also allow it to hold water much better than sand or silt. When laying your materials, aim for an equal mix of coarse sand and coarse organic material for optimum drainage and nutrients. The very best way to improve soil compaction is to make sure it doesn’t happen in the first place. But how do you loosen hard soil? Clay soil can take several seasons to loosen enough to create a good planting base. In clay soils, clay particles are typically arranged along a horizontal plane in a platelike structure. In the first season or two after adding organic material to the soil, you will want to take care when watering. They stay soggy when wet, and turn rock hard when they dry out in the summer. This results in improved drainage and aeration as well as sofer and lighter soil. Today, there is over a foot of rich topsoil and loads of healthy, food-producing plants growing. You can also add organic matter, like compost or manure, to increase the nutrients in the soil. To successfully grow plants in clay soils it’s important to both build up the soil with good organic matter and break up the clay with special additives. Drought is much less damaging on clay soils than others soil types. To grow healthy, vibrant plants, you need loose soil that allows water to drain effectively and your roots to absorb nutrients and receive air. When soils are this "tight", necessary air, water and nutrients can not move through them. How to Loosen Clay Soil. Here’s how. This results in improved drainage and aeration as well as sofer and lighter soil. Clay is normally rich in plant nutrients, but its tendency to compact and poor drainage cause many plants problems. Improving Clay Soil . We’ve read piles of research on this topic and put that knowledge to work on heavily compacted red clay soil in our own yard. Don't be discouraged, it will be well worth your time for the success you will have in growing plants and grass and also for the drainage advantages that loose soil in good condition will give you. I started this edible landscape a year and a half ago on a hot and dry, sub tropical Queensland property. If your yard is pretty much dead, you may want to consider using a rotary ho. Add on top two inches of sharp clean gravel. Start the process by using a tiller to loosen the existing soil (if it is a large area) or a spade (if it is a more manageable size). How Do I Loosen Compacted Soil? Gypsum is a naturally occurring mineral which contains calcium and sulfur. Even if you use liquefied organic matter for soil improvement the lack of air in the clay soil slows down the improvement dramatically. (The name "Gumbo" is a fitting name for the heavy sand-clay soil) It is not easy for plants to become established, but once they do, they often do well. Here are some of the most common tips in the gardening community. In some ways clay soil has gotten a bad rap. You can have this done by a professional, or rent a lawn aerator yourself at a rental shop. Gypsum is a powdered soil amendment that landscaping experts frequently recommend for loosening hardpan clay soils. They will add a great deal of sand to your yard, as well as Gypsum Clay Breaker. 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